MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The new Minnesota Teacher of the Year is one of the youngest people to earn the award in its 52-year history.
Abdul Wright, 29, is a language arts teacher at Best Academy in north Minneapolis and the first charter school teacher to win the award. He’s also the first African-American man to win.
WCCO’s Angela Davis talked with him on Monday as he returned to the classroom this morning.
His students just love him. This year, the selection committee chose someone who is an amazing role model.
As a child, Abdul Wright lived in violent neighborhoods in Chicago and then in a homeless shelter in Minneapolis. As a teenager, he discovered education could turn things around.
It’s clear that Mr. Wright is also “Mr. Popular.”
“I chose teaching as a profession because there were people in my life who showed me grace when I felt like I didn’t deserve it,” Wright said. “There were people who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. There were people who helped instill confidence in me.
“There are lots of kids everywhere who struggle with belief, who struggle with feeling confused, who struggle with being misunderstood. To me, I want to give them a voice,” Wright said.
His students are proud of him.
“Like, you can just vibe with Mr. Wright. He’s just cool. He’ll understand where you are coming from. He’ll just help you with anything,” eighth-grader Jessica Barnett said.
“He’s just a male role model to me. Like Jessica said, he can connect with anybody. He understands where we come from and we understand where he comes from,” eighth grader Jermaine Hardin said.
Eric Mahmoud is the Founder and CEO of Best Academy. He vividly recalls Abdul’s job interview.
“I tell you he was so passionate, so dedicated and committed that it kind of oozed through him. By the end of the interview I was in tears,” Mahmoud said.
Mr. Wright is eager to tackle the problem of disruptive student behavior.
“I think they’re calling for help. I think they need us. I think they need somebody to sit down with them and just listen. Sometimes they don’t want you to find a solution for them, sometimes they just want to be heard,” Wright said.
He shared his concerns about kids making bad decisions.
“I know that a lot of young people are going to make bad choices if they don’t realize the importance of their choices, and the importance of education. I want them to be successful,” he said.
He added that adults often forget that kids are a lot like us.
“Young people want the same thing we want. They want to be appreciated, they want to be loved, they want to be respected, know they’re important, they want to feel valued, they want to know they can contribute,” Mr. Wright said.
He says he plans to reach out to teachers across the state during the next year, to listen and to learn.
“There are going to be teachers across the state so annoyed with my emails and phone calls,” he said, adding, “I just want to be a part of listening, be a part of this conversation about how can we make our society better. The best way to make our society better is through education,” he said.
He’s proud of a trip that Best Academy arranged for a group of exceptional eighth graders at the school, to give them a look at what’s possible for their futures. They flew to Atlanta this past weekend to tour the campuses of historically black colleges and universities like Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Atlanta University.
At Morehouse, the students attended the commencement service. They kept a journal to document the experience. It was the first time many of the students had even flown. For many of them, it was a life-changing event.
Mr. Wright was supposed to go with them but stayed in the Twin Cities to attend the awards ceremony and find out if he’d won. As Minnesota Teacher of the Year, Mr. Wright will be traveling the state to meet with other teachers to share ideas and answer questions.
He’ll also get some training at Harvard University. And he’ll fly to Washington, D.C. for a reception at the White House for all of the state award winners.
Next week, Abdul receives his master’s degree in education at Hamline University.